‘As the Metro goes, so goes the fire service’
Inside the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association – a unique group with a powerful impact
There are certain individuals whose perspective on life puts them several steps ahead of the rest of us – thought leaders, early adopters, visionaries. While the term “influencer” has a bit of a different meaning these days thanks to social media, we in the fire service certainly have our own influencers – Chief Alan Brunacini’s name rises to the top, as always.
Groups or organizations can also serve in the influencer role, and I submit to you that the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) is a strong example. The decisions of this unique group of fire service leaders can have a profound impact on the entire fire service.
A common refrain heard during my time in leadership ranks has indeed been, “as the Metro goes, so goes the fire service.” Allow me to share a bit more about this group and its latest conference to illustrate this impact.
About the Metro Chiefs
The Metro Chiefs is a section of both the IAFC and the NFPA. Membership in Metro Chiefs is restricted to the chief of paid or combination departments with a staff of at least 350 paid firefighters. There are currently 115 active chiefs representing departments in 35 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. There are also 94 “senior” (retired) chiefs who were previously active members.
The Metro Chiefs conference is the singular conference that brings THE decision-makers from hundreds of mid-size to large fire departments to the table, which is great not only for the peer-to-peer interaction but also for key industry partners to make their case for industry advancements. The intimacy of gatherings provides a unique platform for chiefs to meet with the vendors that supply goods and services to their departments.
Metro Chiefs conference 2022
Having canceled the 2020 and 2021 spring events due to the COVID pandemic, Metro Chiefs was back in action with the 2022 conference held as scheduled in Memphis, Tennessee. The conference’s host department takes on significant organizational responsibility for the event, and Memphis was up to the challenge. Led by Fire Chief Gina Sweat, the Memphis Fire Department supported the 2022 Metro conference with a warm and professional representation of their city and their department.
Visionaries lead educational sessions
U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, an honorary member of the Metro Chiefs, not only attended most of the week but also led a panel-discussion titled “The System Not Built for Purpose.” Moore-Merrell got the chiefs doing some deep thinking about the “why” of our work, and tied that discussion to justifications for what we do through the collection and analysis of data. The session, which emphasized the importance of accurate data collection and sharing, included several forward-thinking panelists: Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, Dr. Steve Kerber (UL FSRI) and Mr. Michael Spaziani (FM Global Fire Service Programs Manager).
Two additional fire service research thought leaders – Dr. Jennifer Taylor and Dr. Sara Jahnke – led individual presentations and discussions, while chiefs took in presentations from Chief Dave Downey and Chief Bruce Moeller. Other national and international speakers included NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley; IAFC President and Chairman of the Board Chief Ken Stuebing; IAFC, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council of the U.K. CFO Mark Hardingham; President of the Federation of European Fire Officers CFO Stephan Wevers; the Mexican Association of Fire Chiefs President Sergio Ramirez; and President of the International Public Safety Data Institute John Oates.
Leadership and DEI in focus
The 2022/2023 conference themes were “Leadership” and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI). It’s easy to say the words or recite the acronym; it’s something else to understand the meaning and significance of DEI among our ranks and in our leadership. Our leaders set the tone, not only for the now, but also for the future.
In reflection of the work needed in the DEI area, the Metro Chiefs members elected the most diverse board in the group’s history, with the following slate of officers and board members:
- Chief Robert Rocha, president; Corpus Christi (Texas) Fire Department
- Chief Edward “Loy” Senter, Jr., vice president, Chesterfield County (Virginia) Fire & EMS
- Chief Ernest Malone, secretary, Indianapolis Fire Department
- Chief John Butler, treasurer; Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire Rescue Department
- Chief Trisha Wolford, board member; Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Fire Department
- Chief William Bryson (retired), senior board member; City of Miami Fire Rescue and Miami Dade Fire Rescue
- Chief Steve Dongworth, alternate board member; Calgary (Alberta, Canada) Fire Department
- Chief Don Lombardi, immediate president; West Metro (Colorado) Fire Protection District
The Metro Chiefs ripple effect
The real beauty of this conference is in the simplicity of the intended and unintended opportunities for connection. Many of the challenges these organizations face are universal across the fire service, whether a Metro-sized department or not. Many of these issues are front-burner topics for fire service leaders, meaning the solutions identified by the Metro fire chiefs can have a critical ripple effect across the country.
Fire service advocates
In additional to the educational programs, important business takes place at the conference – business that, again, can have a profound impact on the greater fire service.
During business sessions, members passed a resolution endorsing the passage of the “Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act” (S.1873/H.R.1946), which authorizes Medicare to cover DNA blood screening testing to detect cancer, and the establishment a federal government program to fund annual cancer screening tests for firefighters. A letter along with a copy of the resolution will be sent by the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association to the president of the United States and congressional leadership.
The Metro membership also approved an International Outreach Policy designed to encourage international participation in the Metro Chiefs through the establishment of an International Outreach Fund. International or affiliate Metro members who lead departments in a developing country and can demonstrate a financial need may apply for support to attend the Metro Chiefs’ Annual Conference.
Lastly, 2021/2022 Metro Chiefs President Don Lombardi and CFO Stepan Wevers, president of the Federation of European Fire Officers (FEU), signed a Memorandum of Understanding seeking to advance the international fire service through the exchange of experience and information in several fields:
- Leadership within the fire service
- Training and education
- Exchange programs
- Risk inventories and analysis
- Disaster relief and rescue and related services.
At the closing ceremonies, chiefs installed the 2022/2023 officers and presented the following awards to Metro Chief members:
- Fire Chief of the Year: Chief Ernest Malone, Indianapolis Fire Department
- Russell E. Sanders Lifetime Achievement Award: Chief (ret.) Ronald J. Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
- Distinguished Service Award: Chief (ret.) Russell E. Sanders, executive secretary (ret.) for the Metro Chiefs
Congratulations to the new officers, board members and awardees.
Metro Chiefs are leading the largest fire service organizations across the country and world, while constantly striving to make decisions that keep the safety of our personnel, our communities and the bottom line of service in laser focus, no matter the size of the department. Their forward-thinking decision-making ripples through the fire service, helping take leaders from where they find themselves to where they need to be. Indeed, the fire service goes as the Metro goes.